Chemical Weapons in Syria

Ethnic and Political Map of areas attacked in Syria

What are chemical weapons?

Chemical weapons are a means of inflicting harm or destruction on a large scale. Any delivery system that carries a toxic chemical, such as a bomb, may be considered a chemical weapon. Frequently used chemicals include choking, blister, blood, and nerve agents, which are stored as liquids but become gaseous upon release. These agents can sometimes be commonly found and easily accessed, however they are considered to be chemical weapons when they are stockpiled in large amounts and are contained and deployed from a delivery system in order to produce harm. Chemical weapons do not depend on an explosive force but solely the lethality of the chemical in use.

Cannister Assembly of Munition used in Attack

Cannister Assembly of Munition used in Sarin Attack

Explosive Dispersion of Sarin

Explosive Dispersion of Sarin

Why is it a big issue?


Photo from BBC

In the beginning of the Arab Spring, the Syrian conflict began when Syrian people protested against the Assad regime and demanded reform and for Bashar Al-Assad to step down. Reports from governments and news channels continually confirmed that the internal conflict in Syria is a humanitarian crisis that demands international intervention. Before August 21, 2013, the United Nation’s Security Council and its veto power countries continually tried to pass a resolution on the conflict and intervene, but China and Russia insisted on blocking any resolution, arguing for the sovereign integrity of Syria. The United States, on the other hand, backed by its allies, affirmed that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a “red-line” beyond which the United States will intervene. Their concern is that Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons landing in the hands of terrorist groups in an unstable nation in conflict.


Photo from SCMP

On August 21, 2013 reports confirmed the use of chemical weapons in Damascus. Images, as well as doctors in the area treating subjected women, men, children, and elderly, are the primary sources confirming the event. The grand debate in the public realm was “who is responsible for the use of these weapons?” The Syrian Assad regime completely denied responsibility for their use and blamed groups on the ground instead. In response, the United States threatened a limited military strike and military movements were observed on the Mediterranean Sea in addition to other U.S. military bases preparing for a strike on Syria.The Russian Federation, seen as a close ally of the regime was too quick to broker a deal with Syria and to bring the United States on board as well. The use of Chemical weapons in Syria became an important issue, not only for its humanitarian violation on innocent civilians and violating rules of war, but for the impact it had in changing diplomacy, international action, and creating a new structure and understanding of the weapons’ use.

Size of attack area projected onto Boston_Google Earth

Size of attack area projected onto Boston (Google Earth)

Location of Main Gas Attack on Suburb of Damascus_Google Earth

Location of Main Gas Attack on Suburb of Damascus (Google Earth)

Timeline of the History of Chemical Weapon Use

4th Century BCE:

  • Indian arches use arrows dipped in poisonous snake venom
  •  Smoke used against enemies in Greece and China

15th Century:

  •  Alchemist created poisonous chlorine clouds by burning saturated chlorine rags during Siege of Belgrade
  • Leonardo da Vinci designed explosive shells filled with arsenic and sulfur

19th Century:

  • Union army in the American Civil War planned to attack confederate trenches with hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, but failed.

20th Century:

  •  1914 Mustard Gas is first used in World War I by Germany, then again by the following countries:
  • 1919 UK against the Red Army
  • 1921 Spain and France against Rifian resistance in Morocco
  • 1930 Italy in Libya
  • 1934,1936-37 The Soviet Union in the Xinjiang Province, China
  • 1935-40 Italy in Ethiopia
  • Nazi Germany against Poland during World War II
  • 1939 Poland against Germany
  • 1937-45 The Japanese Empire against China
  • 1963-67  Egypt against North Yemen from
  •  1983-88 Iraq against Iran
  • 1956-75 Agent Orange is used in the Vietnam War by the United States. Agent orange is a herbicide and defoliant.
  • 1996 Tokyo subway Sarin gas attack used by Aum Shinrikyo, a terrorist group

21st Century

  •  August 21, 2013: Sarin used in Damascus by an unknown party

For more: Chemical Warfare, from Rome to Syria: A Timeline. 

The Syrian Sarin Attack 

The Guardian

Photo from The Guardian

The actual Sarin attack in Damascus was much larger than what has been reported inthe media, and this page will provide an analysis of the extent of the attack and the mechanisms of the munitions used to dispense chemical agents. Possible reasons for why assailants in the Syrian Civil War might want to execute these attacks will be presented, along with an explanation of the toxicity level of Sarin as a nerve agent and how it interferes with the nervous system. The attack was designed to cause the maximum possible harm to civilians with the technology available to the assailants, and thus the choice of Sarin over VS as a chemical weapon, population densities in the areas that were hit, and the meteorological conditions will also be analyzed for their role in the transport and deposition of Sarin and the extent of harm caused to the civilian population.


Photo from CNN

Business Insider

From the Business Insider

Photo from The Guardian

Photo from The Guardian

Effects of Sarin Poisoning

Symptoms of Sarin Poisoning

The extent of poisoning depends on the amount, form, and length of exposure, and exposure to large doses can cause death. Symptoms will appear within a few minutes to hours after exposure:

  1. Runny Nose

  2. Bronchial secretions

  3. Tightness in the chest

  4. Dimming of Vision

  5. Pin-point pupils

  6. Drooling

  7. Excessive perspiration

  8. Nausea, Vomiting

  9. Involuntary defecation/urination

  10. Muscle tremors and convulsions

  11. Coma

  12. Death by Asphyxiation

Dead Pigeons Photographed after the Nerve Attack_from CNN

Dead Pigeons Photographed after the Nerve Attack (CNN)

For more information:


Links for live updates:

More photos:


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